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About The Way Jamaicans Talk

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By Author: Andy Mullins
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The official language spoken in Jamaica is English. However, most Jamaicans speak patois in their daily lives. Patois is a mixture of African words, English words and loanwords borrowed from other languages. Millions of people in Jamaica speak patois. Patois is also spoken by a substantial number of Jamaicans who have migrated to other countries. In addition there are millions of people from other Caribbean islands who understand patois. As mentioned earlier, standard English is recognized nationally as the official language, in Jamaica, and it is spoken in classrooms, on the radio, when doing business and by government agencies. Similarly, standard English is the language you'll find written in Jamaican newspapers and magazines. However, when on the streets or at home, patois is language you'll most often hear.

The following are a few examples of Jamaican words.

Popular Words for Greeting:
yes eyeyah = yes sir (used as a very informal greeting)
wah gwan = what's going on
nutten nah gwan = nothing is going on
suh wah pun = so what's up

Showing Location:
eh deh = it is
nuh ...
... deh = it is not
deh deh = to be
she deh deh = she is there (at home etc)

Pronouns:
mi = I/my
yuh = you
unno = you(plural)
wi = we
dem = they

Common Verbs:
lef = to leave
dem lef = they left
gi = to give
dem gi eh = they gave it

Words and Expressions:
cho = an exclamation
cho nuh dweet = don't do it (exclamation)
cris = pretty, looks good
chaparita = wrist bracelet
boops = someone with money

Jamaican patois evolved, in Jamaica, over hundreds of years during which time the language was influenced by loanwords introduced by African slaves, and it was also heavily influenced by English words, from the British, who colonized the island. Therefore, it should not be surprising that many words in patois lean towards a British pronunciation; although no similar word may exist in standard English. Websites such as http://www.speakingjamaican.com have material teaching Jamaican patois.

Some say that Jamaica patois is an accent. It is more than an accent. Some say that patois is a language. Suffice it to say that patois has its own pronunciation rules, word order is important and correct usage and placement of verbs are important. Moreover, Jamaican patois incorporates new words from other languages and from other languages on a continual basis. The language is constantly changing. Much of the change is due to new words being coined or borrowed from other languages. Youth culture also drives and promotes change in the language. One of these ways youth culture affects patois is through the use of the internet. Jamaican is a spoken language and was hardly written, except in folk poetry and folk stories, but now patois is frequently being written in internet chat rooms where spelling is gaining standardization and new word are being coined.

Jamaican patois is the lingua franca spoken in Jamaica. It is a vibrant, expressive and lively language. If you've ever listened to or heard dance hall reggae music you've had a taste of what the language sounds like. If you know a few words of patois, Jamaicans will be delighted to hear you speak them but it's not necessary because Jamaicans can understand standard English perfectly well.

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